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13 Aug What about ‘blue’ spaces? The impact of being close to water on our mental health

Guest blog written by Juliet O'Connor at Emilie O'Connor. 


We have long known the impact of green spaces on our well-being but what about blue spaces? Is there something extra special about being close to water?

‘Every time I go to the sea it makes me peaceful, it makes me feel part of something bigger than my everyday life, the horizon and the rhythms shift my thoughts,’ explains creative director Emilie O’Connor. She spends her time between London and Melbourne (although is currently stuck in lockdown in Melbourne), and the ocean is her go-to for resetting. It’s also the main inspiration for her inside and outside homewares collection. Each design is based on the beauty and endangered creatures of the seas.



Research around blue spaces:


Research is confirming that there is indeed something special about water. New findings from the BlueHealth Project suggest that there are three main ways spending time by the water can impact our happiness and mental health.




Firstly, blue spaces are active spaces. Walking, swimming, running, surfing, paddling – time by the water is often spent moving, directly impacting our overall mental health. 


Secondly, it’s not blue spaces in and of themselves – being stuck out in the middle of the ocean on a boat may not be everyone’s idea of life enhancing experience! But the places where the water intersects with the land are the most beneficial. These spaces are often social ones; we meet with friends for picnics by the river, or spend time with our families on the beach. This social connection in nature, unsurprisingly, boosts our well-being. These spaces are all inclusive. For all walks of life no matter what your social status is.


Third, being by moving water has been found to capture attention. Studies find when we are by the sea we are less likely to ruminate on negative thoughts and able to break habitual patterns of thinking. This is possibly due to the natural, meditative rhythms of the tide. 


But before everyone grabs their bucket and spade and heads off down to the coast, ‘blue space’ does not just mean the sea. Rivers, lakes and even fountains in parks have been shown to positively benefit mental health. Importantly, the data indicates, seeing the benefit of these spaces will only happen if we spend more than two hours per week by water.


Creating a blue infrastructure:


It’s encouraging news that the BlueHealth Project is promoting nationwide plans to make blue spaces more a part of our everyday lives. They are looking at the possibility of a ‘blue infrastructure’; building easier access to blue spaces to promote well-being. 

Crucially, natural environments can only be enjoyed if we play an active role in preserving them. Human-caused climate change, pollution and the degradation of aquatic environments are threatening natural blue spaces. If we are to keep benefiting from them, we must work to live more in harmony with nature. 

Simple changes can make a big impact. One of Emilie’s top tips is to pick up five pieces of waste every time you visit the coast, river, or lake. She’s been doing it with her two sons, Harry and Arty, whenever they go for a walk on the beach or out in nature. Try taking part in fun challenges from plastichunt and join their global community!

 

Tackling plastic pollution:


We also recommend checking out Surfers Against Sewage. SAS are based in St Agnes, Cornwall although their work has an impact countrywide. Plastic and rubbish pollution is a big problem for British coastlines, threatening lives of wildlife and the delicate ecosystems they call home. SAS works together with local communities to help keep coastlines rubbish free.


They organise community beach clean ups and lobby the government to improve environmental policies. We think the work they do is vital and is why we are supporting them, donating 5% of profits from selling our collection of homewares. The petition they are currently running aims to stop sewage pollution that is not only endangering ecosystems but also putting the health of water users at risk. You can sign it here: https://www.sas.org.uk/ 


Taking steps to preserve our blue spaces:


Day-to-day, it’s important to remember that everything we do, from the food that we eat, to the products that we use to clean our houses, comes at a cost to these precious natural environments. Shopping consciously, using fewer plastic products, supporting charities, keeping outdoor spaces rubbish-free and eating less or only sustainably caught fish will make a difference to our footprint. These steps will ultimately conserve blue spaces for everyone to enjoy in the years to come.